Taking Stock Of China’s Airpower Build-up In Tibet
China’s People’s Liberation Army (PLA) seems to have taken serious note of India’s determination since 2007 to beef up its force projection capabilities along the arc stretching from eastern Ladakh all the way up to the India-Nepal border adjacent to the southwestern portion of the Tibet Autonomous Region, and in turn is now proceeding to counter India’s moves by undertaking its own build-up of offensive airpower capabilities in the same area. Translated for the layman, it means that
A) the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) will realise its tactical objectives on the ground by resorting to massed fire-assaults (against forward-deployed Indian ground forces) delivered by a numerically superior deployed force comprising tactical non-line-of-sight battlefield support missiles (NLOS-BSM) and long-range multi-barrel rocket launchers (MBRL) capable of firing rockets equipped with sensor-fuzed munitions (SGM);
B) such rocket artillery-based weapons would be employed for the ‘deep battlespace’ in tactical areas that are ideally suited for deployment of such weapons, i.e. the flat, locational deserts around eastern Ladakh and the foothills opposite Uttarakhand State;
C) while increased use will be made of NLOS-BSMs and tactical ballistic missiles (TBM) to neutralise the Indian Air Force’s (IAF) offensive airpower generation capacities that would be located in Jammu & Kashmir (J & K), the PLA Air Force’s (PLAAF) manned combat aircraft backed up by AEW & C platforms would be employed for blunting/neutralising any localised ground offensives (during the contact battle phase) that could be mounted by the Indian Army.
Presently, the IAF’s Western Air Command (WAC) can deploy some 150 combat aircraft of various types within air bases located inside J & K, these being Adampur (capable of housing Mirage 2000Hs, MiG-29B-12s and Jaguar IS), Awantipura (MiG-21 Bisons, MiG-29B-12s and Jaguar IS), Pathankot (MiG-21 Bisons and MiG-27UPGs), Srinagar (Su-30MKIs, MiG-21 Bisons and MiG-27UPGs), Udhampur (MiG-21 Bisons), Leh (MiG-29B-12s and Su-30MKIs) and Thoise (Su-30MKIs). WAC by early 2002 had firmed up plans for phase 2 of its transformation process along the northern front and in mid-2003 a solitary Su-30MKI Mk2 did a trial-landing at the IAF’s Leh (located at 10,680 feet ASL and having a 9,000 feet-long runway) and Srinagar air bases. This was preceded by the Su-30MKI pilots during a few route-check flights and runway overshoots with MiG-29B-12s to familiarise themselves with the overall sortie pattern, weather conditions and the operating terrain. It was only after this that the four Su-30MKI Mk3s from the Barielly-based No24 Squadron along with 12 pilots landed at Leh on September 16, 2008 (in two phases of four each) for a 10 day-long deployment that also saw the Su-30MKIs each logging up to four training sorties per day and also doing overshoots of the runways at Srinagar and Thoise air base (located 10,066 feet ASL and hosting a 10,000 feet-long runway).
Thoise is the acronym for Transit Halt of Indian Soldiers Enroute. Prior to this historic deployment, was another pathbreaking achievement on May 31, 2008 when after a 44-year break, an IAF An-32B tactical transport aircraft landed on the 2.3km-long sandy airstrip (now lengthened to 3km) at the 12,037 feet-high advanced landing ground (ALG) in Daulat Beg Oldi (DBO) in the sub-sector north (SSN) area of Ladakh at 6.17am. This was followed by another An-32B landing at the refurbished ALG at Fukche (at 14,200 feet ASL) on September 24, 2008, with the Nyoma ALG, south of Chushul, at 13,400 feet ASL being activated on on September 18, 2008. The 3,400 feet-long ALG at Dharasu at an altitude of 2,950 feet in Uttarakhand’s Uttarkashi hills bordering China was made operational in the second half of 2010 without much fanfare. All these ALGs facing the Line of Actual Control (LAC) will eventually have a 3km runway length and will be used for aerial logistics support.
According to the PLA’s appreciation, these air bases and ALGs will be ideal targets for the PLA Army’s NLOS-BSMs and TBMs, which have already been stockpiled in both Xinjiang and Aksai Chin. To date, 13 tunnels dug into the mountains have been built at Xiadulla, 98km from the Karakoram mountain pass between Ladakh and the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region, while another similar NLOS-BSM storage facility is located at Qizil Jilga, 40km off the LAC in eastern Ladakh near the Western Tibet highway.
However, when it comes to interdicting the supply lines of India’s forward-deployed ground forces in both eastern Ladakh, Himachal Pradesh and Uttarakhand, the PLA plans to employ a combination of massed fire-assaults from heavy-calibre MBRLs as well as battlefield air interdiction sorties carried out by Su-30MK2s and J-10s, with the Su-27SKs being employed along with the ZDK-03 AEW & CS platforms for defensive counter-air and airborne battle management taskings. And it is exactly for engaging in such scenarios that the PLA conducted its first joint expeditionary Army-Air Force live-fire exercise on the Qinghai-Tibet plateau (at an altitude of 15,420 feet, or 4,700 metres) between July 27 and August 9, 2010 that involved an infantry battalion of the PLA Air Force’s (PLAAF) XV Airborne Corps and six Su-27SKs drawn from the 97th Regiment of the Chongqing/Baishiyi -based 33rd Fighter Division (95661 Unit). Preparations for this exercise began in March 2010 and by May a train loaded with combat support equipment like ZBD-03 armoured infantry fighting vehicles had arrived in Lhasa using the Qinghai-Tibet railroad, the first time ever that the GLD’s Military Transportation Department had made use of this railroad.
In addition, for the second year in a row, the PLA Army and the PLAAF last year conducted Brigade-level live-fire exercises on the foot of the snowcapped mountains on the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau at an altitude of more than 5,000 metres. Though the exercises, dubbed as Integrated Joint Operations (IJO), were conducted under the command of the Tibet Military District, which comes under the Chengdu Military Region (MR), a few select field artillery and armoured formations belonging to the Lanzhou MR also took part in the combined arms exercises, which got underway last July and lasted till last October.
PLAAF elements again deployed in 2011 Shigatse air base between last August and November, these being six Su-27SKs and three Su-27UBKs from the Chengdu Military Region’s (MR) Chongqing/Baishiyi-based 33 Fighter Division’s with 98 and 99 Air Regiments, and three J-10s from the Mengzi-based 44 Fighter Division’s 131 Air Regiment (based in Luliang). While some of the Su-27SKs engaged in defensive counter-air sorties, others were armed with 122mm S-13 and 266mm S-25 air-to-ground rockets for straffing runs. The J-10s on the other hand were armed with PL-11 beyond-range and PL-8 within-visual-range air combat missiles for air superiority taskings, and also took part in daytime precision strikes by dropping LT-2 laser-guided bombs (LGB), which were guided to their targets in both daytime and at night by man-portable laser target designators. And in another first for the PLAAF, a detachment of four J-10 MRCAs from 131 Air Regiment began a two week-long deployment at Shigatse starting January 21 this year, during which tactical airspace dominance exercises were conducted in coordination with the PLAAF’s ground-based airspace surveillance radar stations deployed within the Tibet Military District. And last February, a detachment of four J-10s from the 131 Air Regiment practiced the dropping of LT-2 LGBs (which were guided to their targets in both daytime and at night by man-portable laser target designators) and gravity bombs.
Shigatse is now being upgraded into Tibet’s first all-weather air base capable of sustaining high-intensity offensive air sorties
, and is now protected by the JL-3D-90A long-range airspace surveillance radar, a Battery of HQ-12/KS-1A MR-SAM air defence system and a combination of FN-6 MANPADS, LD-2000 point-defence systems, and SmartHunter low-probability-of-intercept radars. During hostilities, Shigatse, falling under the Lanzhou MR, could also receive reinforcements from the Yinchuan AB-based 6 Fighter Division with 16 (Su-27SKs and Su-27UBKs), 17, 18 & 139 Air Regiments; Wulumuqi AB-based 37 Fighter Division comprising 109 (J-8Fs at Changji), 110 (Urumqi South) & 111 (with J-11s at Korla-Xinhiang) Air Regiments; and Wugong AB-based 36 Bomber Division with its 106, 107 (Lintong) and 108 (Wugong) Air Regiments, and the 93942 AAA Missile Brigade.
Since all types of combat aircraft to be operated over Tibet have to fly at the critical limit of their respective flight envelopes with reduced safety margins, and since the unpredictable weather there calls for a high level of flying skills (veteran pilots’ oft-repeated warning is: “you can take chances with the hills, you can take chances with the weather, but it is suicidal to take chances with the weather and the hills at the same time”.), it will be interesting to see in future whether:
· The PLAAF initiates the development of rocket-powered LGBs (like the AASM from SAGEM) for its Su-27SKs and J-10s, since such PGMs offer distinct advantages over their gliding counterparts when used for hitting targets located at high altitudes.
· The 106, 107 and 108 Air Regiments are equipped with newly-built H-6K bombers that are capable of launching CJ-10K air-launched cruise missiles.
· The PLAAF deploys its H-6U aerial refuelling tankers in support of its future periodic deployments of Su-27SKs and J-10s (each of which are equipped with four external fuel tanks during their ferry flights and two during battlefield air interdiction sorties) to Shigatse.
· The PLAAF accelerates the development of conformal fuel tanks for its J-10s
TRISHUL: Taking Stock Of China’s Airpower Build-up In Tibet
By the way, Shigatse is right next to the chicken's neck part of india
Various other interesting tidbits:
Why is Pakistan so much in demand? If you only had watched the various recent Pakistan TV talk shows, you would have realised what’s exactly happening inside that country. Firstly, Pakistan’s civilian establishment is not viewed by the military establishment as being the real stakeholders in Pakistan’s future. Secondly, the citizens of Pakistan are not counted as being the country’s nett assets by either the civilian decision-makers or the military establishment. For the latter, the only assets worth fighting for at all costs are the China-origin nuclear assets. Secondly, the US knows all about this and therefore, two years ago, decided to legally infiltrate into Pakistan up to 4,000 over-ground intelligence operatives to thoroughly seek out and localise the GPS coordinates reqd for offensive strike air taskings, that’s imperative whenever offensive air campaigns using precision-guided munitions are required to be mounted. Raymond Davis was one such operative. The US had, two years ago, prepared a list of 382 targets—including 53 in and around Islamabad—that needed decapitation via conventional air-strikes just in case Pakistan engaged in ‘strategic defiance’ of the US (like persisting with the Iran-Pakistan gas pipeline project) of the type witnessed in 1990 under the then Pakistan Army COAS Gen Mirza Aslam Beg. And it was the former Pakistani Ambassador to the US, Hussain Haqqani, who had issued 4,000 visas to these US over-ground intelligence operatives within 24 hours.
This is the real story behind Pakistan’s so-called ‘Memogate’ affair. The rest is all ‘tamasha’ and ‘nautanki’ meant for the gullible.
Regarding the LY-80E MR-SAM missile, it is in reality a souped-up and re-engineered 40km-range 9M317M missile originally developed by Russia and which forms part of the naval Shtil-1 air-defence system and the land-mobile Buk-M1 MR-SAM.
Let’s get the basics right first before crystal-ball gazing into the future. Firstly, the problem between China & India regarding the LAC is political, and therefore cannot be resolved militarily by EITHER side. China realised this way back in 1962 and accordingly crafted its limited offensives into Indian territory and has since held on what it considers of absolute strategic importance—Aksai Chin—whilst unilaterally withdrawing from NEFA/AP. China’s demand is a simple & elementary one, which most Indian citizens are not exposed to: redefine the LAC in eastern Ladakh on a mutually acceptable & just basis (i.e. a win-win situation for both sides) and stop hosting the Tibetan Govt-in-Exile & Tibetan Parliament-in-Exile at Dharamsala, which is a legitimate demand of Beijing that’s consistent with the Panchsheel Agreement inked by India at Bandung in 1955. China has no grouse with the Dalai Lama residing in India as a religious/spiritual refugee, but it rightly views India’s hosting of the Tibetan Govt-in-Exile & Tibetan Parliament-in-Exile at Dharamsala since 1960 as a gross violation of international law. While on one hand India officially and endlessly recognise the Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR) as being an inseparable part of China, she then contradicts herself by hosting the Tibetan Govt-in-Exile & Tibetan Parliament-in-Exile. This was the first cardinal error committed by Jawaharlal Nehru & V K Krishna Menon since 1960. Had this not been done, then there would have been no limited border war between the two countries in 1962. After all, more than secular India, it should have been the two countries where Buddhism is the state religion—Sri Lanka & Thailand—that should have hosted the Tibetan Govt-in-Exile & Tibetan Parliament-in-Exile, but they both chose not to. Therefore, it is high time India faced up to reality and questioned the existence within India of the Tibetan Govt-in-Exile & Tibetan Parliament-in-Exile when no one else in the world even recognises these bodies. If India wakes up and takes the right decisions consistent with international law, then 90% of the Sino-Indian animosities will quickly disappear. If India fails to take such logical decisions, then I’m afraid she would only be exacerbating matters and will be forced into a corner from which, even militarily, she won’t be able to extricate herself, since the might of India’s military-industrial infrastructure cannot match that of the PRC even over the next 30 years.
As far as Aksai China goes, I don’t foresee China letting it slip from its hands under any circumstances & Beijing will go all-out to defend what it has held on to since the mid-1950s. Therefore, I for one will prefer not to be drawn into dreaming up unrealistic scenarios about a future round of China-India military hostilities. Both Jawaharlal Nehru & V K Krishna Menon had dared to make such grossly erroneous conclusions in the late 1950s/early 1960s when they brazenly ‘ordered’ the Indian Army to ‘throw out’ the PLA from Indian territory while not realising that the incipient Indian Army was being asked to dislodge an Army that had singlehandedly taken the entire combined might of the UN in Korea and pushed down the UN military forces from the banks of the Yalu River up north right down to the DMZ in a matter of months.
S-2 is the Arihant, while S-3 & S-4 will be identical to the Arihant. S-3’s modules are now being fabricated at the Vizag-based SBC, while component-manufacturing work on S-4 is now underway. The S-5 will be of greater displacement & its PWR will be a brand-new design. This is still in the design stage. And what you must bear in mind is that NO ONE, not even India, can rest on only a fleet of SSBNs. Because only SSNs can provide undersea protection to SSBNs ad therefore if a country has a fleet of SSBNs, then it has to acquire SSNs as well. If one has only SSBNs, then its entire fleet of SSBNs is vulnerable to attack by hostile SSNs. As to where India will acquire the technology for fabricating SSNs, the only plausible answer is France. Technology-wise, the Arihant-class SSBNs—being derived from the Soviet Delta-1 SSBN design, do no compare favourably with the existing Chinese Type 094 Jin-class SSBNs that are based on technologies similar to those on the Soviet-era Delta-III SSBNs. And the S-5 SSBN too, technology-wise will be similar to the Delta-III SSBN, since the ATV Project Office’s Russian ‘consultants’ do not want to see India having a qualitative advantage over China. This is Russia’s way of preserving the military balance-of-power in South Asia